On International Women's Day, we're kicking off a series of short interviews with some of Britain's most inspiring young businesswomen - MT's 35 Women Under 35 alumni.
First up, Smruti Sriram, boss of Supreme Creations, the world's largest ethical manufacturer of reusable bags.
1. What made you go into business with your father?
After I graduated from Oxford, I thought I wanted to be a management consultant. Having got to the final rounds at McKinsey and Bain, I realised that I actually wanted to be at the sharp end of business, where all the action is. I asked my father if I could spend a few months in his company, Supreme Creations, to get a feel for what it's like to run an enterprise. Eight years later, I'm still here, and still love it. My father has been a great mentor to me – I am constantly picking up little things from him, whether it’s how to greet someone at a meeting, or how to define your terms in a negotiation.
2. In your view, how have retailers responded to the 5p plastic bag charge?
The retail industry were certainly landed a shock with the 5p plastic bag charge. There have been some knee-jerk reactions in the products that are on offer. For example, many retailers are offering thicker plastic bags at 10p, which gets around the legislation because they can be used two to three times. But in terms of plastic consumption, it's more damaging. Surveys from the Oxford Strategy Group show that consumers are willing to spend on good, reusable bags, for example in canvas, if they are well designed, have beautiful prints, are strong and are perhaps sold for a good cause. For retailers, reusable bags can be one of the cheapest ways to advertise.
3. Which businesswoman do you most admire and why?
There are so many. I was privileged to meet Cilla Snowball CBE last year (at an MT event). She is the group CEO and chairwoman of AMV BBDO, the advertising house behind huge campaigns for Mars, Sainsbury’s and Pepsi. Her humility, enthusiasm and laser-sharp commerciality have left a great impact on me. She is a mother of three, she's passionate about mentoring and charity, and is extremely well revered in a fairly male-dominated industry. She gives me hope that you can have the balance between career and family life. Never, ever has she appeared frazzled!
4. What's the secret of your meteoric rise up the career ladder?
Life is full of snakes and ladders. Hard work gets you up the ladders; hubris slides you down those snakes.
5. What's the biggest challenge you've had to overcome personally and how did you do it?
It's hard to single out anything. I'm very bad at distinguishing between challenges and opportunities. When something 'bad' hits, I can get a bit down but you have to remember that sometimes there is a reason behind things. To experience a high, you need to know what is a low.
6. Have you ever experienced sexism or ageism in the workplace?
Nope. I tend to block out things like that, or simply don’t have a radar for it. Merit, graciousness and positivity can cut through a lot of negativity or bias.
7. What would be your three pieces of practical advice for young women to help them succeed in business?
First, surround yourself with positive people – your company defines you. Second, always be happy and positive. It really does reflect back. The moment you're negative, a bit downcast or disgruntled, it hits you back like a boomerang. Finally, be clear in your goals, then make them happen.